Updated from 8:41 A.M. to include thoughts from Cantor Fitzgerald analyst on the second page.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When Apple (AAPL - Get Report) and China Mobile (CHL) officially signed the deal to bring the iPhone to the world's largest carrier, it was hailed as a monumental agreement, potentially revolutionizing Apple's smartphone business. That may take more time, though, than some were expecting.
Following China Mobile's announcement of annual earnings, which saw the company's first profit decline in more than a decade, the world's largest carrier said it added around 1 million iPhones in February, according to The Wall Street Journal. China Mobile's Chairman Xi Gouhua told the paper that the company, which has more than 770 million subscribers, added 1.34 million 4G users in February, and "most of them are iPhone users."
Apple could not be immediately reached for comment to confirm the number Gouhua gave in the interview.Shares of Apple were slightly lower in early trading, losing 0.28% to $529.76, while China Mobile shares were off 3.3% to $43.17. Analysts on Wall Street had expected that by bringing China Mobile into its fold, Apple could boost iPhone sales significantly, not only boosting revenue growth, but also the company's lagging stock price. Some put annual iPhone sales at an additional 12 million to 15 million units because of the deal. On an annual average run rate, Apple would hit the low-end of that target, assuming that China Mobile iPhone activations stay constant, and there's no drop off. For comparison, Apple sold 51 million iPhones in its fiscal first-quarter, ended Dec. 28, 2013. Over the past two years, Apple shares have lost 9.3% in value, excluding dividends. That compares to a 44.1% return in the NASDAQ, of which Apple is one of the largest components. AAPL data by YCharts The deal went into effect starting Jan. 17, 2014, and Apple continues to cite China as an incredibly important market. Apple's iOS devices accounted for 57% of all mobile browsing in China, despite competition from other handset makers, including Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei and others.
On Apple's fiscal first-quarter earnings call, CEO Timothy D. Cook noted that the week following the deal was the best week ever for activations in China. "So it's been an incredible start, and at this moment, we're just selling in 16 cities with China Mobile, and as [Apple CFO] Peter [Oppenheimer] alluded to, this number is projected to be over 300 cities by the end of this year," Cook said on the call. "And so we've got quite the ramp in front of us, and we're incredibly excited."